New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Something unexpected about the 11th Annual New York City Greek Film Festival, September 28th – October 15thsuggests a great future for Greek film, according to Festival Director Jimmy DeMetro, “Allow me to add that the short subjects in this year’s festival are absolutely terrific. And I don’t mean this as hype. Almost without exception, they are the work of young people, the next generation of Greek filmmakers. Their talent is so visible, so impressive, and that promises exciting things for the future.” What could be more exciting than blossoming talent?
Another big draw for the festival will be Opening Night, Thursday, September 28 at 7 pm, at the Directors Guild Theater on West 57 St., when the director of the film, PERFECT STRANGERS, Thodoris Atheridis, will be present with its star (and his partner), Smaragda Karidi, a major Greek film and TV star. The two will also be present at the second showing of the film, Sunday, October 1, at 4:15 pm.
DeMetro heightens our anticipation with more hints about what’s coming up.
GN: What is your take on this year’s selection of films?
JD: There are fewer films in this year’s festival than there were last year. We made the decision to limit our choices but to make certain that we were booking the best of what was available to us. I think we have managed this very nicely, and I hope the audience will agree with our choices. As always, there is a balance in the program, with selections varying in subject matter and genre. The idea is to have something for everyone.
GN: Do you feel from this year’s films that Greek filmmakers are taking a specific direction?
JD: There isn’t a filmmaker who doesn’t want his or her film to find an audience and succeed at the box office. As rational as that sounds, it has been very difficult in recent years for films to find an audience in Greece. Some manage to do so, but they are relatively few. In fact, we can argue that in recent years filmmakers have been more interested in breaking into the foreign market rather than the Greek market. At its worst, this tendency has led to a preponderance of films that some viewers find self-indulgent, esoteric filmmaking, the kind of films that certain European festivals love to book. I don’t know if I have discovered a change of direction this year, a trend, but I can say with certainty that at least as far as our selections are concerned, the films are viewer-friendly and strive to catch the attention of audiences at home as well as abroad.
GN: Are Greek filmmakers influencing one another, or being influenced by films from other countries?
JD: Greek audiences flock to American films, but Greek filmmakers, thank goodness, are not making American-style films. Greek cinema is much more influenced by European trends. The focus is on people and the lives they lead. There is an immediacy and relevance in most Greek films that I, for one, don’t find in Hollywood’s comic book adaptations.
GN: Is the crisis in Greece figuring heavily in this year’s films? Did it figure heavily in recent years?
JD: There are some who say the crisis in Greece is easing, but the truth is it is still difficult for filmmakers to find funding for their projects. A few months ago, the Greek government passed new legislation to encourage, via tax incentives, not only foreign production in Greece but local films as well. It is difficult to say at this early stage whether this will impact the industry as positively as I hope it will. We will know the answer to that in a couple of years. It may be worth mentioning that among this year’s selections there are two comedies, AFTERLOV and PERFECT STRANGERS, the last a major hit in Greece last season. Greek filmmakers have not been in a laughing mood for a long long time. It’s been years since we showed a comedy, and this year there are two! Are things lightening up? I hope so.
GN: Do you feel that last year’s films fell into a category of subject matter?
JD: Having two comedies on the bill is rare enough. But, there’s another oddity: MY OTHER SELF is a genuine whodunit, a very fine detective story involving a professor of criminology trying to crack a case involving serial murders. This is a genre that is relatively rare in Greek cinema, and the fact that the film exists is proof of a director trying to find an audience by working in a genre that is not overly familiar to Greek audiences.
There are many other pleasures. AMERIKA SQUARE, an Oscar contender this year, is a very important drama immigration. ROZA OF SMYRNA is a heartfelt film about a forbidden love, dating back to that legendary city. THE BOY ON THE BRIDGE is a coming of age story from Cyprus with an unforgettable performance by its 12-year-old lead.
We are also showing this year’s big winner at the Tribeca Film Festival, SON OF SOFIA. I can summarize the plot in one short sentence: young Russian boy comes to Athens to join his mother and her new husband, an elderly Greek. Yet, that summary belies the incredible richness of the viewing experience that film offers.
GN: Understanding that as the director of the NYCGFF you support the efforts of all the filmmakers whose work is being shown this year, would you talk about some that you feel are most promising artistically?
JD: I am particularly excited about the documentaries in this year’s festival. We will be presenting the world premiere of BORDER SOULS, a heartbreaking documentary on the refugee crisis that somehow manages to be life-affirming and full of hope. There are documentaries on the lives of nomadic shepherds, the stray dogs of Athens, an expatriate with Alzheimer’s returning to Greece in search of closure, the island of Patmos and its magnificent monastery of St. John, and one about the former Patriarch of Jerusalem who was relieved of his duties several years ago as the result of a scandal involving church-owned real estate.
GN: It’s early, but how are sales looking?
JD: I am so grateful to our audiences, New Yorkers who turn out to support us year after year. Last year, we sold over 5,500 tickets in New York alone, and half of our screenings were sold out. This year has gotten off to a good start. Two programs were sold out in the first five days of ticket sales.
Opening Night: Thursday Sept 28 at Directors Guild Theater, followed by a Gala Reception at Kellari NYC!
Info and tickets: 917-710-3027